Readers weigh in: Books President Obama should read

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tevi Troy's April 18 Outlook essay, "The Oval Office Book Club," elicited hundreds of reader suggestions for books President Obama should read -- everything from conservative economic theory to science fiction. Some readers even wondered about the format: "I think he should buy a Kindle by Amazon and save a tree," said one. "Does he read them off a teleprompter?" asked another. Here are some highlights:

After the Constitution and the Bible, Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" was the most popular recommendation. "He needs to read 'Atlas Shrugged' at least 10 times," one reader commented. Another thought some presidential down time with Rand's epic, 1,000-plus page objectivist novel would help Obama appreciate a different perspective. "I'd like to see Obama read an Ayn Rand book to go the complete opposite way," wrote one reader. "Reading the opposite is good for understanding people who disagree with you. It's hard to marginalize and ignore people you understand."

As violence flares in Ciudad Juarez, just south of El Paso, one reader thought Obama should get into a Mexican state of mind. "I think President Obama should read 'The Labyrinth of Solitude' by our own Mexican Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz," wrote Adolfo Preciado-Solis from Guadalajara, Mexico. "I think this work gives a very candid, profound and maybe disturbing view of the Mexican soul and why we Mexicans think and act in certain ways."

"I recommend Philip Roth's 'The Plot Against America,' " wrote Jeffrey Arsham of Ch?tellerault, France, referring to the novel that imagines what would have happened if Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh had won the American presidency in 1940. "Roth vividly portrays a country that was on the verge of mobilizing for a necessary war, but in which lingering strands of nativism could be carried to extremes and lead to outrageous excesses. . . . The book will not enable Obama to solve any problems, but it will offer him insights as regards the possible repercussions of a breakdown of civil discourse."

"President Obama would connect strongly to James McBride's memoir, 'The Color of Water,' " Diane Naughton of Oakland, Va. wrote. "Like the president, McBride came from a mixed-race family -- a white mother and a black father. Both men struggled with their racial identity, as the president chronicled in his own memoir, 'Dreams From My Father.' Raised by strong mothers who emphasized the importance of education, both Obama and McBride (and his many siblings) became successful in their own arenas."

Isaac Asimov never made the short list for secretary of state, but that doesn't mean science fiction can't inform foreign policy. "I suggest the 'Foundation' series by Isaac Asimov," a reader commented. "The works may be classified as 'sci-fi' but are mostly about foreign policy. They offer useful strategies to deal with oppressive foreign threats, all based on the underlying mantra 'Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.' With hostile threats like Iran and North Korea on the horizon, Obama needs Asimov's patient policy prescriptions."

-- Justin Moyer

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